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AAC Communication Partners

Module 1: Working Together


Module 1 positions Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) as a specialization within the broad field of speech and language therapy. We define AAC, and show how working together as “communication partners” is essential if individuals using AAC are to be effective and independent communicators.

Your learning objectives for this module are:

  • Understand why a range of communication partners are essential for successful AAC implementation

  • Be able to define AAC as a specialty within the broad field of speech and language pathology

  • Understand how a wide variety of tools, from paper-based improvisation through to specialized digital applications, are used together in the classroom for developing AAC language competence


1.1 Communication Partnerships
In this first video, Hillary and Nerissa explain why communication partners are essential for the successful development of Augmentative and Alternative Communication capabilities.

Learning to use an AAC device is a complex process that takes time. This requires careful consideration of the full context for each individual – “environmental engineering.” It also requires appropriate and effective partnerships between individuals using AAC devices, speech pathology and education, and those who provide support on an everyday basis.

Here, paraprofessionals are particularly important. How can we address their needs, empowering them to be as effective as they can?

Hillary and Nerissa discuss the key concepts that underpin AAC use, that will be explored fully in the modules that follow. In addition to environmental engineering, these key concepts include aided language stimulation, understanding how to use prompting techniques, and vocabulary selection.  Together, these concepts constitute a comprehensive AAC implementation framework.

How can these enabling requirements for AAC best be taught? Camp Commūnicāre, Commūnicāre’s summer AAC camp, serves as an intense and focused setting, where the full range of communication partnerships come together.  This is a great opportunity for understanding and developing teaching and learning opportunities – evidence-based practice at its best.

A theme that emerges strongly from the summer camp experience, and which is developed further through the rest of this course, is the central and essential role of paraprofessionals in giving individuals using AAC the power of communication.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. Why is effective AAC so much more than technical proficiency in the use of a communication device?

  2. If mastery of AAC is seen as a process that takes time and is structured by the individual needs and circumstances of each AAC user, what is the full range of those who will be called on, in one way or another, to serve as communication partners?

  3. Within this broad range of communication partners, why are paraprofessionals so important? Do we adequately recognize the role of paraprofessionals, or do we take them for granted?

1.2 What is AAC?
Nerissa and Hillary now define Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) as a field of practice. They explain how Camp Commūnicāre provides key evidence for the continual improvement of practice. Activities such as boating, fishing, swimming and horse riding serve to model everyday life for individuals using AAC, providing for the richness of environmental context which is central to the development of effective communication.

We are introduced to a range of students using their AAC devices and developing practical competence in communication.  For each, the objective is to empower them to become independent communicators.  This will require personalized solutions.

Hillary explains how the diverse experiences offered in the camp setting show how the variety of circumstances that make up every individual's environment are instrumental in developing communicative competence in real life situations.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. What are the specific features of Augmentative and Alternative Communication, that define this as a distinctive specialization within the broader field of speech and language pathology?

  2. What are the kinds of evidence that emerge in intensive and focused environments such as a summer camp, that enable research-informed improvements in clinical practice?

  3. In reflecting on what she has learned through the intensity and diversity of the camp experience Alyssa (one of the graduate interns) situates the focus on the importance of inputs for AAC users within the general theory and practice of language development. Does this mean that AAC is, in itself, a language?

1.3 AAC in the Classroom
This video, which concludes Module 1, demonstrates how the principles of AAC are put into practice in classroom environments. We hear from special educators Michelle Walden and Casey Matthias, and from paraprofessional Marissa Yeager.

Michelle, Casey and Marissa demonstrate how they use a wide range of tools, from flip books with Velcro stick-ons to language boards to iPads with a range of specialized applications. Later in this course, we will learn more about how “lite-tech” and “high-tech” are used together by communication partners.

Casey stresses the importance of creating a rich classroom environment for all the children she teaches; she has “pictures everywhere.” This – what we will come to understand as “environmental engineering” – is essential for stimulating conversations as a basis for independent communication. Michelle looks for the effective integration of AAC users with other children in her class; what Casey calls “leveling the playing field.” Casey introduces the concept of “wait time” – giving the AAC user the time to respond. For her this – and the mastery of AAC in general – is a process of continual professional development.

After you have watched this video, consider the following:

  1. How is “lite-tech” (paper based resources) and “high-tech” (for example, the iPad) used together, reinforcing one another? Why is it important not to see digital AAC tools as inherently superior in AAC practice?

  2. Marissa shows great versatility in developing tools for supporting individuals using AAC. In what broader ways could improvisation be a key skill set for paraprofessionals working in AAC?

  3. Casey shows the confidence to make herself vulnerable as part of the process of becoming an effective AAC practitioner. How could the idea of vulnerability be used as a teaching tool for AAC communication partners more generally?


You're now ready to move on to Module 2….

Cancellation Policy: Commūnicāre, LLC reserves the right to cancel a class based on low registration. If a class is cancelled, participants will be notified and can either transfer their registration to another class or request a refund. 


Refund Policy: Refunds will not be issued if a participant is unable to attend a class. However, registration may be transferred to another class, if available.

Complaint Policy: If you are not satisfied with the course you purchased, or have questions, comments or concern, please contact our Professional Development Coordinator

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